There's a small town in North Georgia that you may have never heard of. It's tucked away, just outside the reach of metro Atlanta on the edge of the North Georgia Mountains. If you look at the satellite image map you'll find it as an island in a sea of trees. Waleska, home of Reinhardt University, the Funk Heritage Center, and not much else.
But that's enough.
The Funk Heritage Center is a fantastic stop for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the native people groups that populated Georgia for centuries before the first European settlers arrived until the Indian Removal of the 1830s.
The museum boasts exhibits from the earliest days of habitation of the area, including the Reinhardt Petroglyph, an incredible set of carvings in a stone that it is believed to have taken centuries of contributions to complete. Other artifacts tell the story of the Mississippian culture that built the great mounds that can be found along so many of Georgia's rivers.
There is also a dugout canoe that was uncovered by erosion caused by the downpours of Hurricane Hugo. These, along with many other artifacts, give us a glimpse of the every day lives of people that lived 1000 years ago.
Newer artifacts such as a birchbark canoe, this one made by Native Americans in Canada sometime in the 1930s show a craftsmanship and artistic ability that adorned commonly used items. This canoe has obviously been cared for and is still in excellent shape.
There are other artifacts, stories, accounts, legends of the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles - the civilized tribes of the South. These are the groups that made the South possible. People who lived on agriculture, built wood framed structures, espoused democracy and trade. Their trade routes became our highways. Their fields still grow our crops. Many of their homes were inhabited by our forefathers. Many of their cities are now our centers of commerce. Their names still color our maps on mountains, rivers, and towns.
Then there is the tool gallery. This is one of the most amazing museum galleries I've seen. Just pick a trade. Hatter, blacksmith, brush maker, bookbinder, you name it. There is a panel filled with their tools and hung on a wall in this gallery. J. Alan Sellars spent a lifetime researching, collecting, and displaying these tools. Now they all hang on the walls for museum visitors to see. It offers a glimpse at our past, before mass production made such trades obsolete. or at least overrun. This gallery alone is worth the price of museum admission.
The last stop on our tour was the short walk to the Appalachian settlement behind the museum. There are several structures that have been moved to this location to educate visitors on the ways of life for the earliest settlers of this area. These are log structures, very simple and practical. No frills. But they are also almost 200 years old and still fit for their intended use.
The Funk Heritage Center is an excellent stop if you are interested in Native American History or art, the history of Appalachian settlers, or anyone curious about the tools of the trades. If you're in North Georgia, it's not a long drive and Waleska, while small, is a beautiful Southern town and a great change of pace if you are in metro Atlanta. Ride on up and, as always, tell 'em we sent ya.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire